Thinking About the Holiday Season

Somewhere around the middle of October we begin to consider all that we want to happen for the upcoming holiday season. It starts slowly — little hints of fall weather and a few colorful leaves. Then comes the cooler nights and better sleeping weather… If we are lucky we rest better once the heat of the summer has passed… We want oatmeal for breakfast. Grab a sweater as we head out the door in the morning, taking along our mug of coffee or tea rather than that tumbler filled with ice water. Lunchtime has us craving good soup. Butternut squash is one of my favorites. The stores are filled with mounds of Halloween candy that we try to resist, and countless costume shops have opened their doors, drawing us in to view their artistic and gruesome displays. Pumpkin patches decorate the region. The air has a crisp unique scent that is distinctly known to us as autumn.

We move through the Halloween festivities without too much trouble except perhaps some cranky “kid” moments when the costume isn’t just right or the friends aren’t cooperating with the group trick-or-treat plans or the parents put a stop to eating too much candy at one time. We survive, hopefully with a few laughs and not much of a bellyache.

But looming off in the not-too-distant future is Thanksgiving, then Hanukkah, then Christmas, to name a few (and in our household, a ton of birthdays!)

(Advice to share: Don’t get pregnant in March. Your kids will hate you for giving them a December birthday, which typically falls second to holiday festivities and is always when fall semester finals roll out! Our solution to that dilemma is to make a big deal out of “half-birthdays” in June. We go out for an ice cream treat when we are fortunate enough to be together!)

Those of us who are planners generally start well in advance to communicate with other family members and friends about “what” is going to happen “where” and “when.” There are attempts to make concrete decisions, often a rather difficult process because everybody seems to have a different idea of how the holiday should be spent.  It gets more complicated once the group gets into “who” is going to do “what,” and if something has to change “how” and “when,” and “who” is going to make all the necessary arrangements.

So, it gets pretty complicated with many competing needs and wants to consider layered over all the changes that have occurred since the last time the family gathered for shared holidays. Maybe there is a deceased relative, or a new baby, or a different spouse of boyfriend… And those who are planners have a tendency to take on the lion’s share of the work and responsibility, growing more and more resentful of the huge burden they carry. The world indeed needs “planners,” but to have such a “gift” can be not only a blessing under certain circumstances, but also a curse.

Then there are those who never plan, waiting until the last moment to pull something together creating a rather intense crisis period that can be extremely stressful, keeping others affected “on pins and needles.”  Certainly others can actually become angry with those who have not been able to provide more structure and predictability to the shared holiday gatherings. Anger about “not doing your part in time…” So, tensions can easily escalate. Accusations and finger-pointing can be an unpleasant outcome.

Yet, most of us want to celebrate in a meaningful way with those we love and enjoy during this very special time of year. Finding the best way, the least stressful way, a way that offers connectivity and good will is what we strive for — a fair and equitable balance of competing and conflicting needs and wants for a group of folks tightly or loosely called our “family.” How do we do this?

  • Start with clear and honest communication about needs and wants.
  • Listen with an open mind and heart. Don’t judge or label.
  • Develop a preparation timeline. Build in time for self-care first.
  • Make charts and lists to show who is responsible for what. Share with all who are part of your family.
  • Use a standard and shared problem-solving strategy to work through the rough spots. They will surface.
  • Let go of or eliminate anything that is not necessary to meet the core goals for the group. (The ideal of the Normal Rockwell era is unattainable. Fact.)
  • Remain patient, tolerant, and forgiving throughout. There are high hopes and expectations during the holiday season, and disappointment and short fuses are to be expected.
  • Keep it simple. Get adequate rest. Eat healthy. Take long walks.
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